From the Rav’s Desk: How much money can one charge for a job if no price agreement was initially made?


I hired a local fix-it man to fix a broken door in my home. I never heard of him before but was desperate to find someone to fix it being that it was basically locked shut with an inability to open, and we needed to have access to the room as soon as possible. I asked him prior to starting his work as to how much it would cost and he said that he doesn’t know and we would talk about it when he was done. When he was done doing the job which took him about 20 minutes, he told me that it would cost $400. I found this amount to be outrageous and would never have agreed to such an amount if he would’ve told me beforehand. He only worked for 20 minutes, and the new lock that he entered to replace the old one, was a regular cheap brand which cost no more than $50. He told me that this is his price, especially being that he came right away at a moment’s notice in the evening past his normal working hours. I told him that I don’t have that kind of money to pay him and agreed to pay him only $200. He reluctantly took the $200 but was very upset and said that is considered stealing that I am not paying him the amount that he asked. Can you clarify as to whether I am in the right for refusing to pay him the amount of money that he asked.



You are correct in your sentiment that a hired worker does not have the right to overcharge a person for the work that they do, especially if this price was not agreed upon beforehand. Hence, you are only obligated to pay the hired worker the amount of money normally charged on the market for such a job, and not anymore. If the market price fluctuates with some workers charging a lesser amount in some charging more, then you are only obligated to pay the lesser amount being that the higher amount was not agreed upon beforehand. I would suggest you speak to one or two other local locksmiths, and after describing to them the details of the job that was done, get a quote estimate for this type of job, and you are not obligated to pay the worker any more than the lower amount that you were quoted.


Although there is a clear ruling in the Poskim that there is no Onah [legal claim of overcharging] by a hired worker, this only applies by worker that is paid hourly for the job [i.e. Poel], and not to a worker that is paid per job, otherwise known as a Kablan, or contractor, in which case if he overcharges you, you have a legal claim against him to return the overcharged money. However, in truth in this case it is not a scenario at all of Onah, overcharging, which is only relevant when the overcharged price was agreed upon by both parties prior to the work, unbeknownst to the person doing the hiring that he is being overcharged. However, in this scenario there was no price agreement at all, and hence in such a case the rule is that not only can he not overcharge you even if he is paid per hour for the job, but furthermore he cannot charge you more than the lowest amount that is normally taken on the market for such a job. Accordingly, you are to survey the amount of money charged for such a job in your locality, and you are only obligated to pay the lowest quote you received. If a worker wants to be paid a higher amount than the lowest market price, then he must explicitly stipulate this with the person he is working for prior to them doing the job. This very logical rule protects the hirer from being charged an amount that he would not be willing to pay if he were to be told this amount prior to him doing the job. However, he must at the very least pay the lowest market price for the job even if he finds it to be too pricey, and he would’ve never agreed to it had he known that that is how much it would cost him.

Sources: See regarding how much to pay if no amount was agreed upon prior to the job: Michaber C.M.  331:3; 332:1; Smeh 331:5; 332:3, 11; Shach 332:5, 17; Taz 332:4; Ketzos Hachoshen 331:3; Mahariybal 1:117; Ritva Bava Metzia 76a; Aruch Hashulchan C.M. 331:8; Shaareiy Mishpat 1:68; See regarding Onah by workers overcharging: Michaber C.M. 227:33, 36; Rambam Mechira 13:18

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